This weekend, I underwent an extreme physical challenge, one that I'd say can go down as the greatest one I've ever had, even more than a marathon: I hiked up Mt. Fuji. I know many people that have hiked up it of varying fitness levels and all came back in one piece. They even mentioned they'd seen children hiking up it. So, when one of my husband's coworkers' wives put together a group trip, I decided to join- even though I'm 8 weeks pregnant.
Before I talk about the hike and show some pictures, let me give you some background information on Mt. Fuji. Mt. Fuji is the most famous mountain in Japan, located outside of Tokyo. It is actually a volcano, that last erupted in 1708. It stands at 3776 m (12,290 ft). There are ten different trails you can use to hike to the top. Unfortunately for us, we hiked up the Yoshida trail (which is the most popular trail), and started at the 5th station, with about 10,000 other people. Our total ascent was 2300 m (7546 ft) to the top.
Mt. Fuji is only open for hiking in the months of July and August because of safe weather conditions. In Japan, school holidays are from mid-July to mid-August, so choosing a weekend near the end of August, we thought we were safe in avoiding most major crowds, BOY WERE WE WRONG!
We began our journey to Mt. Fuji here in Kobe, by taking a train about 30 minutes to meet our friends (there were 20 of us altogether). We boarded a bus and it took us on an 8.5 hour journey to the 5th station on the Yoshida trail. The journey was full of traffic jams and bus stops every 2 hours (for the driver's safety- Japanese law). Here is the bus that was waiting for us, cute how they had a "Team Caterpillar" sign:
When we got to the base, we spent about 45 minutes, gathering more food, purchasing walking sticks, and taking photos. Here's a picture of all of us before the start, unfortunately in the dark, some of the people in the back were not illuminated well with my flash:
The walking sticks we bought are traditional Mt. Fuji souvenirs (o-miyage as Japanese would say)- at each station or hut you passed, you could pay 200 yen and get a stamp woodburned onto your stick. Here we are at the first one, you can see the pot of hot coals where they heat up the branding iron and then you can see him stamping the stick. They actually came in quite useful for the steep climb up and slippery descent.
We were warned about altitude sickness because the climb was steep and we'd be at high altitudes quicker than normal. We were told to stop for about 30 minutes at each station to acclimate before continuing on. Thanks to the high volume of hikers, this was not necessary to do. We were stuck in a traffic jam of people. It was the worst crowd I have EVER been in in my entire life and there was no way out. Here are shots of crowds at various points:
At the top when I reached there, and this is only to the crater side:
From the top after sunrise, looking down (this is only 1 of 10 trails):
By the time the crowd was at it's worst, we were above the cloud line, it was freezing and there was nothing to do but sit and shiver on giant rocks on the edge for hours until the crowds cleared. By 5:08 when the sunrose, I was about 100 m from the top. Not bad, here are some of my pictures of the sun rising and the beautiful fluffy clouds we were standing above.
First hint the sun was getting ready to rise:
First glimpse of the sun:
The sun rising up:
At this point, I wanted to get to the top, it was so close, I could almost touch it. All of the sudden, I got hit with a wave of altitude sickness and almost fainted. I had to stop and catch my breath and eat a piece of candy and 5 minutes later, I was at the top. I was so tired from hiking all night and battling the crowds, hungry, and freezing, the top was anti-climactic to say the least. The crater was cool, but if I wasn't annoyed, tired, hungry, and cold, I would have like to walk around the circumference of it. But, I knew I still had the descent and then the long busride home to follow.
Here is a view of the crater looking across, it dips down where the people are standing (it's 100m deep):
Here is our group photo at the top before we started the descent:
The descent was not as crowded as the ascent THANKFULLY! But, it was gruesome. It was the most painful part of the experience, in my opinion. The surface was loose dirt and ash, with big pieces of gravel, the whole way down. There were sharp switchbacks for the first 3/4 of the way down, then a long long road of up and downhills back to the station. The road down was soo dangerous, people were slipping all over the place because of the bad footing and steepness of the path. There was no food or water for sale the whole way down and since we had seen the sunrise, it was out and blazing hot!
Here is the surface for our descent:
I can say I am glad I did the hike, but NEVER AGAIN!!! I think that all 20 of us had the same sentiment.